Maker Studios Goes Old Hollywood: Will It Work?

Back in your grandparents or great-grandparents’ day before YouTube was a memory, big studios like MGM and Paramount dominated the motion picture landscape, controlling nearly every aspect from production and talent right down to marketing and distributing the films. It worked for about 40 years, but changing tastes, bloated companies and legal troubles led to the studio system’s downfall.

Now Maker Studios, a production company whose artists we have featured on NMR like Kassem G and Timothy DeLaGhetto, is using the studio system playbook and making what they call a “sustainable new kind of studio model for short form content.” In a recent interview with Fast Company, Danny Zappin, one of the co-founders of Maker, said that the company is trying to create the model to become a one-stop shop for production and infrastructure for all its channels–especially on YouTube.

“You want support and infrastructure. It’s hard without having people to help find locations, get props, coordinate, produce, and so on,” he said to Fast Company. “Creating all that for one channel doesn’t make sense, but if you could create and share that infrastructure across dozens or hundreds of channels, then you can share resources and get a lower-cost production model going.”

Here are some points to consider about Maker’s ambition to create a studio system for online video content:

Vertical Integration

While Maker Studios is known for finding talent, it also tries to make sure that all its 500 channels get the same attention. Of course it would be beneficial for companies like Maker to try to ensure that their talent stays in one place to get their videos done as opposed to shopping around. On its website, Maker ensures that “offerings to partners include development, production, promotion, distribution, sales”—meaning that they are the go-to guys for everything to produce web video content and disseminate them to the masses. Such a vertical integration would be beneficial for new artists who already have the talent and a growing fanbase, but don’t have all their marbles yet. Zappin told Fast Company that “We’re definitely going for a more fully integrated model that has a lot of different components. It’s a different, more holistic, everything-under-one-roof kind of approach.”

Easier To Attract Quality Talent

Like the studio system of yesterday, large online video studios are trying to attract more talent to its already growing roster. When companies like Maker Studios have the ad revenue and resources to produce, promote and market their content all under one roof, artists wanting to garner a wider audience will want to find ways to work with them. Offering a generous ad revenue plan will entice them even more.

Little Room For Artist Independence

When independent artists sign to production companies, they lose a part of their independence—sometimes all of it. Some channels like Machinima have gone so far as being accused of locking in artists into unreasonable long-term contracts. In a post on Reddit after Braindeadly made a vlog post about his “lifetime” contract with Machinima, HuskyStarcraft blasted the channel for its practices against its contributors in its contractual agreements, noting, “The Machinima contract has changed many times and I have friends in the network who had to sign ANOTHER contract even though they already had signed one. This tricks people into not realizing just how different they are.” Braindeadly made his last update on the Machinima situation a couple of weeks ago saying that the “perpetuity” contract was not enforceable and is looking at options on leaving the channel. When you’re locked in to agreements that Machinima are accused of using on its creators, it’s hard to get out and leaves many artists frustrated and heartbroken.

More Power For Larger Studios

What went wrong for the studio system of the 1920s until the 1960s was that they were too big. They wielded much influence through not only their own talent and production but also through other entities like marketing and even the movie theaters. They forced movie theaters to buy movies as a unit. Life magazine in 1957 recalled that the practice of block booking “wasn’t good entertainment and it wasn’t art, and most of the movies produced had a uniform mediocrity, but they were also uniformly profitable.” A 1948 Supreme Court ruling began the death of the studio system as we know it and opened up more entities to the movie industry. While the entertainment game is vastly different thanks to the proliferation of online video, the signs that more integration may be on the horizon could stifle choice and independence not only for artists but for viewers as well.

Is the studio system a viable option for online video production? Tell us here.

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